Tag Archives: chatbots

A chatbot, a robot prosecutor and a robot judge

No, this is not the first line of a joke about three robots that walked into a bar. It refers to three items that were in the news recently. We already were familiar with chatbots and robot lawyers. Now the Order of Flemish Bar Associations have launched their own chatbot; San Francisco is running a pilot project with a robot district attorney; and Estonia plans a robot judge to handle small damages claims. Let’s have a closer look at each.

The chatbot of the ‘Orde van Vlaamse Balies’ (Order of Flemish Bar Associations)

On 10 April 2019, the ‘Orde van Vlaamse Balies’ announced the launch of its new chatbot, called Victor. The initiative was taken by some bar associations, and the chatbot is meant to facilitate access to legal assistance. It does this in two ways. On the one hand, like its British counterpart Billybot, Victor helps you find a lawyer. He asks some questions to determine what area of practice your legal issue relates to. He then suggests some nearby specialist lawyers, based on the topic and the region you live in.

But Victor does more than that. The chatbot can also check whether you are eligible for a pro bono lawyer or for other types of legal assistance like reduced fees. He will ask the relevant questions, and if you are eligible, he will let you know what documents are required. If you have further questions he can’t answer, Victor will give you the contact details of the bar association that can provide you with additional answers.

Victor can be found at www.advocaat.be, as well as on the sites of the bar associations that were involved in its development: www.baliewestvlaanderen.be, www.balieprovincieantwerpen.be, and www.balielimburg.be. Victor is only available in Dutch.

The Robot District Attorney in San Francisco

About a year ago, in May 2018, the office of the District Attorney in San Francisco decided to launch a pilot project to clear convictions using algorithmic justice. Let’s give some background information first. In November 2016, recreational use of marijuana was legalized in California. For decades before the legalization of marijuana, thousands of people had received convictions for marijuana use. And now that it had become legal, the idea was to clear those preexisting convictions, and to use an algorithm to determine which cases were eligible for record clearance. As such, the algorithm is a triage algorithm. Once it determines a case is eligible, it automatically fills out the required forms. The San Francisco District Attorney then files the motion with the court.

Since the pilot project started, it has reviewed 43 years of eligible convictions. This has led to 3 038 marijuana misdemeanors being dismissed and sealed, and to recalling and re-sentencing up to 4 940 other felony marijuana convictions.

Given the success of the project, the plan is now to expand it, to eventually clear around 250 000 convictions.

The Robot Judge in Estonia

Finally, inspired by the success of the DoNotPay chatbot that offers free legal assistance in 1 000 legal areas, the Estonian government decided some weeks ago to create its own robot judge. The robot judge is meant to adjudicate small claims disputes of less than €7 000. Officials hope that the system would help clear a backlog of cases for judges and court clerks. At present the project is still in the earliest stages, but a pilot project that deals with contract disputes is scheduled for launch later this year. Parties are expected to upload the relevant information and documents, which the system will then analyze and come to a verdict. Parties will be given the option to appeal to a human judge. AI systems have been used before to assist in the triage of cases and to assist judges in their decision-making process. An autonomous robot judge, however, is a first.

So, we now have online courts, robot lawyers, prosecutors and judges. The idea that we might one day have cases handled without intervention of human lawyers suddenly has become a lot more real.

 

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Legal Chatbots

One year ago, we wrote about the world’s first robot lawyer. Donotpay.co.uk was created by Joshua Browder. It is a website with a chatbot that started off with a single and free legal service: helping to appeal unfair parking tickets. When the article was published, the services was available in the UK, and in New York and Seattle. At the time, it had helped overturn traffic tickets to the value of 4 million dollars. Apart from appealing parking tickets, the website could already assist you, too, in claiming compensation if your flight was delayed. Since then, a lot has happened. By now, DoNotPay has successfully appealed traffic tickets to the amount of 10 million dollars. But, more importantly, its activities have expanded considerably. And in the last year, several other legal chatbots have seen the light of day, as well.

Let us start with DoNotPay. A first important expansion came in March 2017, when it started helping refugees claim asylum. Using its chatbot interface, DoNotPay can offer free legal aid to refugees seeking asylum in the US and Canada, and assists with asylum support in the UK.

A second, and far more massive expansion followed only days ago, on 12 July 2017, when DoNotPay started covering a much broader range of legal issues. Its new version can offer free assistance in 1,000 legal areas, and does so across all 50 US states, as well as in the UK. It can now, e.g., assist you in reporting harassment in the workplace, or to make a complaint about a landlord; or it can help you ask for more parental leave, dispute nuisance calls, fight a fraudulent purchase on your credit card… The new DoNotPay covers consumer and workplace rights, and a host of other issues.

Browder didn’t stop there. Because he wants to address the issues of ‘information asymmetry’ and ‘inequality of arms’, as of 14 July 2017, DoNotPay is opening up so that anyone can create legal bots for free, with no technical knowledge. If you want to create your own free legal chatbot, all you have to do is fill in this downloadable form, and send it to automation@donotpay.co.uk.

Another interesting legal chatbot, is Law Bot, which was created by a team of Cambridge University law students, consisting of Ludwig Bull, Rebecca Agliolo, Nadia Abdul and Jozef Maruscak. When Law bot was launched, it only dealt with aspects of criminal law in the UK. More specifically, the bot wanted to inform people who had been the victim of a crime about their legal rights. What had motivated the creators, was the observation that most advice from lawyers on legal rights of the victims of a crime felt like it was written mainly for the use of other lawyers, rather than to help inform the general public, who were in fact the people most in need of the information. The first version of Lawbot guided its users through a series of questions and answers that helped them to assess what, from a legal perspective, may have happened to them and what they should do next, such as to formally report a crime to the police.

A second Law Bot initiative was Divorce Bot. It asks its users questions via an internet-based interface to guide them through the early days of a divorce. The chatbot explores different scenarios with them, and helps clarify their exact legal position. It also explains legal terms that are commonly used in divorce, such as ‘irretrievable breakdown‘ and ‘decree nisi‘, and provides a comprehensive breakdown of the divorce process. It gives a breakdown of the costs and forms needed, too. This way, people (in the UK) know exactly what to expect, even before they talk to a lawyer.

One of Law Bot’s co-founders also launched an AI-driven case law search engine, called DenninX. The free application’s aim is to help lawyers and law students conduct legal research on English case law by making use of AI technology, such as natural language pre-processing and machine learning.

24 July 2017 is the launch date of a new and more expanded version of Law Bot, called Lawbot-X.  Lawbot-X will now cover seven countries: Great Britain, the US, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. It will also be available in Chinese, for markets such as Hong Kong. The new bot further adds a case outcome prediction capability to assess the chance of winning a legal claim that the bot has analysed. The free legal bot will also operate from a new platform and will be hosted on Facebook Messenger.

[Update 25 November 2017: in October 2017, Lawbot changed its name to Casecrunch].

Another useful chatbot for legal consumers is Billy Bot. Unlike the DoNotPay and Law bot chatbots, Billy Bot does not offer legal assistance, but helps you find a lawyer, barrister or solicitor, in the UK. Billy Bot was created by Stephen Ward, a career barristers’ clerk, and founder of clerk-oriented technology company Clerksroom. Billy Bot can interface with members of the public about some of the same preliminary legal questions that barristers’ clerks often handle. It can currently refer users to appropriate legal resources and pull information from the 350 barristers’ offices. Ward intends to give it access to other systems, including scheduling and case management capabilities. It currently answers questions on LinkedIn.

Next, we have Lawdroid, which was created by Tom Martin. Lawdroid is an intelligent legal chatbot that can help entrepreneurs in the US get started by incorporating their business on a smartphone for free. No lawyer is required. Lawdroid is available on Facebook Messenger. Lawdroid, too, has expanded its services, and the company that created the bot, now also makes legal chatbots for lawyers. Referring to the important rise of chatbots, they point out that there are over 100.000 of them already on Facebook.

[Update 25 November 2017: corrected an item with regard to Lawdroid].

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